Never In Any Joy Of Suffering

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Self Portrait

Self Portrait at 44

by Linda Pastan

How friendly
my failures have become,
how understanding.
Scraping chairs across the room
they sit down next to me
like family almost,
and indeed we have grown
to look alike.
One of them always puts
a log on the fire
and though its wet
and fouls the room
I am warm for awhile,
and drunk with yawning
I sometimes fall asleep
sitting up.


Rilke was Austrian by birth, but traveled extensively in Europe and eventually settled in Switzerland. During his travels he met novelists (Tolstoy, Pasternak) sculptors (Rodin) and painters, often working for some of them or using the artists he met for creative inspiration for his writing.  He died young from Leukemia.  Rilke moved in artistic and intellectual circles for his times.  His writing is deeply mystical and has inspired numerous poets I admire, Pastan, Bly and Lowell are but a short list top of mind.

I recently picked up a book of Rilke’s sonnets translated by Stephen Mitchell.  I recommend it.  Mitchell is a talented translator having tackled projects in addition to poetry on religion and spirituality in Chinese, German and Hebrew.  I am intrigued by Mitchell’s The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers (1993), Tao Te Ching (1992) and The Book of Job (1992).  I have at least five different translations of the Tao Te Ching, I would be curious to see Mitchell’s version.

I am always fascinated by self portraits.  Someday I would like to think I will have time to create another self portrait, maybe even one with paint.  To date, the stained glass, lead creation above is the only one I have ever done.  However, the idea of creating a self-portrait in words as a poem is intriguing.  Am I capable of depicting a faithful rendering of myself in words or paint? Interesting to consider.  Have you crafted a self portrait or more than one?   Where does it hang, in your house or someone else’s?


Self-Portrait

by Rainer Maria Rilke

The stamina of an old long-noble race
in the eyebrows’ heavy arches. In the mild
blue eyes the solemn anguish of a child
and here and there humility — not a fool’s
but feminine: the look of one who serves.
The mouth quite ordinary large and straight
composed yet not willing to speak out
when necessary. The forehead still naive
most comfortable in shadows looking down.

This as a whole just hazily foreseen —
never in any joy of suffering
collected for a firm accomplishment;
and yet as though from far off with scattered things
a serious true work was being planned.

True Singing Is A Different Breath

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Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926)

“Poetry is something in-between the dream and its interpretation.”

Lou Andreas-Salome

Muse

by Linda Pastan
after reading Rilke

No angel speaks to me.
And though the wind
plucks the dry leaves
as if they were so many notes
of music, I can hear no words.

Still, I listen. I search
the feathery shapes of clouds
hoping to find the curve of a wing.
And sometimes, when the static
of the world clears just for a moment

a small voice comes through,
chastening. Music
is its own language, it says.
Along the indifferent corridors
of space, angels could be hiding.


The Sonnets To Orpheus
III

by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

A god can do it. But will you tell me how
a man can enter through the lyre’s strings?
Our mind is split.  And at the shadowed crossing
of heart-roads, there is no temple for Apollo.

Song, as you have taught it, is not desire,
not wooing any grace that can be achieved,
song is reality.  Simple, for a god.
But when can we be real?  When does he pour

the earth, the stars, into us?  Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by your voice – learn

to forget that passionate music.  It will end,
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing.  A gust inside the god.  A wind.

Everything Is Its Own Sigh

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A Sliver Moon Setting at Sunset in Utah.
“Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have this wish I wish tonight.”
Anonymous Nursery Rhyme

The Meteorite

by Randall Jarrell

Star, that looked so long among the stones
And picked from them, half iron and half dirt,
One; and bent and put it to her lips
And breathed upon it till at last it burned
Uncertainly, among the stars its sisters-
Breathe on me still, star, sister.


An evening’s star light show should not be a privileged treat, the scourge of light pollution in our modern existence making something that our forebears took for granted for millenia into something that can still make me awestruck.  The Utah sky opened up the heavens last week and shone brightly in silent splendor.  We basked in the darkness, having been blessed with several moonless nights, the moon dipping below the horizon shortly after sunset allowing us full access to the dark canvas of the milky way and the night sky.

I know enough about the night sky and stars to find Orion, his belt and sword, swashbuckling brilliance in the Utah darkness and the big dipper and the north star clearly demarcating where we were in relation to an artificial axis should we feel the need to set out on foot.  I should learn a little more about astronomy, if for no other reason than to learn a new language in light on those special evenings. The stars are a visible connection to our human history. There are few things in our natural landscape that we can view that are virtually unchanged from ancestors centuries ago, if we can break free of lights narrowing our pupils to blind us to their ancestral twinkle.

One of the joys of travel to remote places is the ability to connect to earth, to water, to animals, to plants and to the sky; the clouds and sun and stars taking on personalities all their own as you enjoy their presence throughout the day and evening.  The sky in Utah has a sense of humor, it changes throughout the day, never staying for long in a single mood.

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A distant view of Sevier Lake, Utah April 2019

Two of my favorite poets, Randall Jarrell and Robert Bly, both were captivated by the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and translated extensively his work from German to English.  Jarrell’s well-rounded academic perspective bringing a generous specificity to Rilke, that makes the translations seem original and natural. I am grateful that more gifted intellects than mine, can open a door into the poetry of great minds in languages I could only superficially explore without their careful word craft. The poem below, The Evening Star, a metaphysical journey of whether the stars we see in the night sky shine from within or from without or both as we blaze energy across the emptiness of space in connection with each other.


The Evening Star

By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Randall Jarrell

One star in the dark pass of the houses,
Shines as if it were a sign
Set there to point the way to –
But more beautiful, somehow, than what it points to,
So that no one has ever gone on beyond
Except those who could not see it, and went on
To what it pointed to, and could not see that either.
The star far off separates yet how could I see it
If there were not inside me the same star ?
We wish on the star because the star itself is a wish,
An unwilling halting place, so far and no farther.
Everything is its own sigh at being what it is
And no more, an unanswered yearning
Toward what will be, or was once perhaps,
Or might be, might have been, or – – –

And so soon after the sun goes, and night comes,
The star has set.